Jack Ashley's influential 1963 documentary about unemployment in Hartlepool, followed by a report by his daughter Jackie on how it changed politics in the north of England.
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MUSIC: Let's Twist Again
# ..let me know you love me so again
# Come on, let's twist again
# Like we did last summer
# Come on let's twist again
# Like we did last year
-Oh, baby, up and down and round and round we go...
The people of West Hartlepool, they're very friendly people.
They've a fine spirit.
They get together, enjoy themselves.
# Like we did last summer... #
The town is not a new town.
But it has all the amenities we want.
But we also have our black spots, like anywhere else.
There's been slum clearance.
But we also have our good spots,
like the estates - well planned, well laid-out estates, fine schools.
And a very good community spirit among the people.
But in the past we've always relied upon the engineering industry,
steel and ship-building.
In ship-building, we've some of the finest craftsmen in the country.
The local shipyard won the blue riband for the most number of ships built, in the past.
And these people are really grand workers.
They stick together, work together, live together.
When unemployment came,
you found all these people, just left hanging in mid-air.
STRAINS OF "RULE, BRITANNIA"
It used to be a busy yard,
throbbing with life and vigour.
But now there are only idle berths,
idle machines and idle men.
It was a big shock.
When you work years at a place and suddenly see your livelihood going,
it is a real shock.
I mean, it's a little bit indescribable.
It sort of knocks you for six, if we can put it that way.
Had you and your wife been worried about the possibility of this?
Well, from previous rumours, we had discussed the situation,
but of course we just hoped that things would turn brighter
and be able to carry on - that the firm would carry on.
But it didn't just turn out that way.
Were you optimistic about getting another job?
Well, at first, we all live in hope
and I was one of them, being an optimist,
and I had hoped that things would come the right way.
But as time goes on,
well, hope gradually fades away.
And when you see the number of people that's out of work in this area,
well, it just about finishes it off altogether!
For the unemployed, the Labour Exchange becomes a focal point.
It draws together the 3,660 people in West Hartlepool
who are waiting for work.
Signing on at the Exchange replaces clocking on at factory or shipyard.
It's a ritual to be observed twice a week, every week.
And one which ensures a basic income.
To one in nine of the town's working population,
the Labour Exchange is now a source of funds, a source of hope,
and a source of disappointment.
For every vacant job, there are more than 40 applicants.
Despite this, many still wait optimistically
for news of a vacancy from manager, Miss Saville.
They're optimistic, but in the light of the last few months,
it's difficult for them to sustain it.
What do you do when you have a few jobs? Do you offer them to everyone or just a lucky few?
No, we try to give as many of them an opportunity of being interviewed as possible.
But we have the interests of the employer to consider.
So we try to select half a dozen, depending on the number of jobs,
of the most suitable people.
But we do try to give them all a turn.
Many unemployed people have told me that queuing for the dole is a humiliating experience.
Is there any way you can cut down the length of waiting for the dole?
I think we do really cut it down as far as we can.
We have a timing system where we use the whole of the day by quarters of an hour.
We try to time as many into each quarter as we can deal with
and no more than we can deal with.
And we use two days of the week instead of one, which we'd use in normal circumstances.
We pay both on Thursdays and Fridays.
Is there any way you can improve the amenities of people who have to wait?
Well, no. I've got the building that was built for the job.
But if the numbers should get too much, of course, I'd take an outhouse and use that.
Aren't you able to put seats or chairs or pictures in the building?
Well, we have some seats, as many as we think will be used,
but our object is not to keep people waiting, it's to get them out.
Not only manual workers are unemployed in West Hartlepool.
Brian West is a white-collar worker.
He was a booking clerk in a local factory.
Well, I studied two years at a commercial school.
I wrote shorthand - I can still write shorthand - at 180 words a minute.
I can type at about 45.
I've got advanced bookkeeping.
I did a course of business management.
And I passed the Royal Air Force education test when I was in the RAF.
He hasn't used any of these skills for eight months.
His qualifications are value-less assets when there are no jobs available.
But he has acquired a new skill since losing his job.
The household chores are his responsibility
while his wife is out working.
She assumes her husband's role of wage earner while he becomes housewife.
Washing, ironing, cooking, caring for the children.
I have to do all that myself.
I start of a morning by dressing them, feeding them breakfast,
and at lunchtime, but my wife does help to get them ready for bed.
-Who decides on your budget?
-Well, I've got to do the shopping. I have to spread out the money,
the little bit of money we have, on food.
But otherwise my wife does more or less tell me what to get in,
et cetera, each day.
I do the shopping from day to day, not weekly.
What little luxuries you can afford, say drink and tobacco, if you smoke,
who decides on how much is allocated for things like that?
Well, we both decide that together. We don't drink and we can't get out.
We can't afford luxuries.
We do smoke a little bit, but it is very few.
How do the children react to you being mum, as it were?
They were very strange to me at first.
But they've gradually come used to me and they look forward to their mother coming in from work.
How far does it embarrass you that your friends know that you're the acting housewife?
It is an embarrassment having to run over and do all the messages and so on.
They often say to me, "How do you manage?" and so on.
But I just have to put up with it. We do the best we can.
Mrs West, do you like working, love?
Yes, I do, but of course I'd rather be at home, and my husband having a job.
Do you feel more independent now that you're working?
Well, I don't, really, you know.
Because I think it's up to a husband to go out to work, you know.
For him to have a job and go to work.
If your husband got a job, would you stop working?
Well, if it was a really good job with good pay, I would.
But really I would rather work on for about six months or so,
just to get a bit of money behind us.
How has the attitude of the children changed to you while you're at work?
-Has it changed?
-I don't think so, not really.
But at first they were a bit upset. They missed me.
As soon as I got in the door they were straight up, faces lit up.
"Oh, Mum, I'm glad to see you", and all this.
-Well do I remember
-The day that you...
Despite unemployment, the vigorous gaiety of social life in West Hartlepool goes on.
But without the unemployed.
None of them go without the necessities of life,
but the dole doesn't provide for luxuries that most people take for granted.
Staying away from the pubs and clubs involves no material hardship.
It's one of the many economies affecting social life
that the unemployed just have to make.
Careful shopping, too, becomes essential
when there's money for little more than necessities.
As a shopkeeper I find the effects of unemployment in West Hartlepool,
it's more the revealing ways.
A customer of mine will come into the shop while he's working
and buy his kiddies a bag of sweets.
Then he seems to disappear for a while, then he arrives back
and instead of buying his usual bag of sweets, perhaps a penny bar of chocolate
just so his children are getting something.
Then you have the lady customer, the wife of the unemployed chap,
she normally comes in and buys one or two women's books and her children's comics.
Then you find that she cuts her books out, and the children still get their comics.
The main effect of unemployment in the town on my business
is that I find that customers try to make their hair last a little longer.
When they do eventually come in, they say, "You'd better make it a bit shorter, Tom,"
and I cut it a bit shorter for them.
Sometimes they want it shorter in the neck, thinning out, so it will last longer than usual.
And I get the odd occasion that they're so desperate for a haircut
they go somewhere and get an amateur to do it.
Then they come in with a muffler on and say, "For God's sake, Tom, can you put this right for me?"
There have been occasions when some of the women have been waiting for their husband's pay packet
and they've asked me, "I can't send the lad down till Friday."
I say, "Send him down the early part of the week when I'm not so busy,
"and you can send the coppers down on the Friday."
Then the steelworkers, they stop the mills on a Thursday here.
There's no steelworkers working after a Thursday.
Those chaps used to be regular customers of mine.
Such a lot of them now just put off that extra time and wait longer.
When they come in, they want it to last longer.
I just spoke to the wife the other day.
I said, "If it goes on like this and it continues to go down",
I'll pack in, get a spare-time job and just open the shop at weekends."
A little trimming here and there is not enough to make up the loss of a wage.
For families with children, the problem is meeting needs which remain constant
whether work's available or not.
An unemployed man receives two-fifths of the average wage,
together with family allowances and national assistance when necessary.
What kind of adjustment does he have to make?
I've been unemployed now for four months.
Unemployment pays £6.19.
We get a little bit from public assistance, which is 28 shillings.
And it's pretty difficult to manage with the money we're getting at the moment.
How does it compare with the money you got when you were working?
When I was working? Oh, it's a big drop. Quite a big drop.
I was getting about £20 a week at the job I was working at.
And it's just about £8 seven shillings we're getting coming in at the moment.
It's a vast drop altogether.
Have you got any other sources of income, in addition to the £8, seven?
None at all except we get milk tokens and free dinner for one of the lads that's at school.
That's just about it.
Did you have any savings when you finished work?
Yes, I did have a little bit, but most of that's gone now.
We more or less have to scrape through.
What direct hardship is involved? How does it basically affect you?
Well, I like my... I like a smoke. I used to like to go out for a drink.
I can't go for a drink at all now.
Me and my wife used to go out regularly, two or three times a week.
We can't go out at all now.
And the bairns feel it in a way
because you can't give them ice creams, sweets, things like that.
You can't give them what you'd like to.
Or shoes and things like that.
More or less now they're starting to run out of shoes.
I'll have to buy them some more, but I don't know how I'll manage for the money.
Just have to try.
Do the shoes all go at the same time and clothes and things?
Or do you have separate problems with the four kiddies?
There are separate problems, of course.
But when we buy for one we try to buy for the other.
More or less, it does come in one big heap.
Otherwise there's other little odds and ends
that one of them may need at times. But mostly it comes at one big jump.
Have you reached the stage yet of pawning things?
Pawning things? No. Not as bad as that yet, no.
Apprentices don't have family responsibilities.
But these boys attending a trade union meeting with their fathers are aware of the financial effect.
When I was at work I used to get just under three pound a week.
Now I only get 32 shillings. Pocket money I used to get a pound, now it's five shillings.
When I go to the Boys' Brigade, that cost me tuppence a week.
But night school costs me five shillings a week in bus fares.
On the weekend, I can just go to the football match on an afternoon.
Before, I could afford to go out with two or three pounds in my pocket.
Out with my mates and enjoy myself.
Now it lasts a week I only get a pound pocket money.
Doesn't go very far, that. By the time you go out with the lads,
go for a drink, you come back, you've got four bob to last the rest of the week.
You can't afford cigarettes or women.
You can't go nowhere, really.
A pound pocket money used to last the week. But I only get about five shillings now.
It doesn't go anywhere. I've lost interest in work now.
You have to think about what you're going to do now for a career.
Why have you lost interest in work?
I've been on the dole a month. It doesn't seem I'll get a job now.
You get fed up sitting in the house reading books.
When it comes to night time, you're sat watching telly.
When you were at work, you were occupied, you know?
You had something to do at work.
When you came home, watched telly, you'd like it.
But when you're just sat in the house all day, telly comes on at night, you don't want to watch it.
You're fed up with it.
When you go out with the lads, you like to enjoy yourself.
But you can't enjoy yourself if you haven't got any money.
-Well, when you go out with them, they expect you to go to the same places as they do.
But when they go to the pictures, you spend your money on the pictures,
you're left with buttons.
It's hard even to pay for your bus fare, never mind going to the pictures.
And it affects your hobbies. If you're saving records,
you can't afford to buy a record a week if you're on the dole.
So you have to cut down on all your things.
You can't be expected to enjoy yourself when you're on the dole.
Very rare I go out with a girl now.
You can't get very far on about 15 shillings with a girl.
You can't afford to take them out every night. I'm only getting ten shillings.
I was used to about 25 shillings.
Well, when you take them out,
you more or less have to pay for everything they do or have.
So when you take them out once, that's about all you can do.
Do the girls ever offer to pay for you?
Well, the offer, but it's more or less accepting charity, taking it from them.
You feel awful taking it, don't you?
Boys are concerned with entertainment.
Men are concerned with feeding their families.
The consumption of meat is a fair guide to living standards.
To what extent have local butchers been affected by unemployment here?
Oddly enough, my business hasn't suffered at all.
In fact, over Christmas and New Year we had an all-time record.
Don't ask me why or how.
It's contrary to my expectations.
But the facts prove, the figures prove,
and my accountant can substantiate it,
is I had an all-time record both for volume in money and every other way.
I'm delighted to say.
Have you no way of accounting for this with 3,000 unemployed in West Hartlepool?
Well, boastfully, yes. Because I give good value for money.
I think now people find it's better to take the trouble to get that bit of extra value
and travel another 100 yards if necessary to get it.
Conversely, you see,
I think when we've got an era of full employment and prosperity,
which we all desire, let's make no mistake about it.
We don't want to have people unemployed, that's nonsense,
but they get a little careless.
They tend to go to the nearest shop at hand,
pop in, spend their money.
Now, I'm not saying that all the shopkeepers are villains. No misconstruction about that.
But there are better values in some places than others.
You may say this is boasting. Well, it's boasting.
But oddly enough, since times have become worse in figures of unemployment,
so has my business prospered.
There, there must be a lesson for the shopkeeper.
Many unemployed people have told me they're eating less meat.
How do you account for this in the light of your own experience?
Well, it just doesn't apply in my case.
People are not eating - as one can see - they're not eating less meat.
In my case they're eating more meat.
I think it's terribly difficult with a business the size of mine
which covers the entire spread of the town to say that people are eating more stewing beef
and less fillet steaks and such like, which were always scarce anyhow.
I don't think there's any change in the habits of the people.
If it's here, it doesn't come to my business.
I've not seen it. I've no evidence of that.
Not all the butchers in the town share that point of view.
Things have dropped a bit in the last six months or so,
with so many people being out of work.
Some people don't come in for meat now. They can't afford it.
We have other people, instead of getting a joint at the weekend, get half a pound of chops
or a pound of chops.
People buying smaller joints.
They've cut out such things as frozen foods, which are more of a luxury.
In general all of them are slightly cutting down.
Are your prices competitive with other butchers in the town?
Yes, we're as competitive as anyone.
It's a very competitive block where we are here.
There's four butcher's shops and we have to be low in price to get the trade.
Do the customers who buy the cheaper joints tell you what else they're buying instead of meat?
Yes, I think they're mostly buying potatoes
and when vegetables are cheaper, they buy more vegetables.
Make do with less meat.
But on the whole it's not drastic yet. Although we are expecting it in the future.
For unemployed families in real need,
the N.A.B is able to supplement their dole.
Instead of queues at the offices, the assessors visit men in their own homes.
The number of unemployed men receiving assistance
has more than doubled in the last year.
Of the 3,660 people who've lost their jobs,
40% are receiving allowances from the Board.
Now, I have the form you filled in at the Employment Exchange,
from which I see you're getting unemployment benefit
which isn't quite sufficient to meet your commitments.
I'm pleased you've applied
because there are still a lot of people who don't know the facilities are available
and these people are hard to reach.
It's strictly confidential, I assure you of that.
No-one will know anything about it.
Above all, if any grant is payable to you,
don't regard it as charity.
It's a right you've got.
I have to ask you a number of questions, but as I said before,
it's confidential all the time.
-How long have you been out of work?
-Six weeks. What rent do you pay here?
-One pound, 16 and six.
One pound, 16 and sixpence. How many children have you?
-Six children, including the triplets.
-Six including triplets.
The information from the interviews is filed, checked and assessed.
On what basis is an award made?
On the basis of scales approved by Parliament, which, with rent added, gives a basic standard.
This standard can be adjusted to meet special needs of any particular case.
How much flexibility do you have for special cases?
We have quite a lot.
Considerable discretion to meet the needs for extra fuel for people who need it,
for extra nourishment if a person is sick.
In many ways we can meet the needs of any particular case.
What qualifications do your officers have, the people who make these awards?
What qualifications? This is a government department, as you know.
They're civil servants.
They have the qualities of humanity, understanding and common sense.
Do you think that civil servants, rather than social workers,
-are better fitted to make these decisions?
-Oh, yes. I think so.
What is the average payment made by the National Assistance Board?
It varies of course. The size of the family, the rent a man pays affects the allowance he gets.
But in general, and in the north-east region,
the average supplement to the unemployment benefit
is 30 shillings and seven pence a week.
-How do you encourage eligible people to apply?
-By all the means we can.
We have leaflets and posters in every post office
and employment exchange in the country.
We have contacts with various voluntary organisations.
We do our best to encourage people who are entitled to apply as soon as they can.
Are you satisfied that all the people who are eligible do apply?
Well, we try to reach them, but we can't tell, of course, who needs.
We... Facilities are available.
We try to spread them as widely as we can.
But we can never tell whether everybody who is entitled to it is getting it.
Even with National Assistance,
prolonged unemployment creates difficult financial problems for some.
They're not completely destitute, but their reserves are gone, if they ever existed.
The family is wholly dependent on unemployment pay and any supplementaries it can get.
The effects are more evident on families like this who can become increasingly despondent.
I've been out of work eight months and things are pretty grim.
You can't do justice to the children, give them proper food and clothing.
-How much were you earning when you were employed?
-About £18 a week.
How much unemployment pay do you get now?
I get six pounds three from the Labour. It's made up to eight pounds by the National Assistance.
-Do you get any other kind of assistance?
-No assistance from anywhere.
-Do you get free meals?
Free meals for the children, but the youngest won't stop at school for his.
The oldest two get theirs.
Did you have any savings or any commitments when you finished work?
I had no savings, no. Commitments, I'm paying for them now. Two pounds, 15 a week.
That's things you'd bought when you were still in work?
-How else do you break your budget down?
How do you spend the £8 a week?
It's 31 shillings for the rent.
Nine shillings for coal.
Two pounds, 15 for tickets that we've had.
Electric light - three shillings a week.
Then there's money for the gas.
What about food? How much on food a week?
About two pounds a week, food.
Mrs Coomer, how do you feed a family of six on two pounds a week?
You have to. You go round and find the cheapest stuff you can find.
How many meals a day do you have?
Me and my husband, we have one. We do without to give the children so they don't go without.
What do you have for your one meal a day?
We have a dinner and that's all.
But the children get everything.
How do you go on for meat?
I only get the stewing meat, you know.
Half a crown's-worth, that's all I get.
Do you manage meat every day?
I usually get a shilling's-worth of mincemeat.
That has to do the lot of us.
What about milk?
I get one free pint and one cheap token.
-Do you manage to get fruit for your husband and the kiddies?
How about vegetables?
Just the potatoes and a sixpenny tin of peas.
Apart from food, what other things do you economise on?
Mostly my food and my coal.
When we have no coal, we just have to do without.
Or chop something up to make a fire for the children.
What sort of things can you chop up?
I've chopped my table up and two dining room chairs.
Even my shopping bags have gone in the fire.
You just have to do it cos we won't let the children go without a fire.
If we have nothing to chop up, we sit round the oven.
The gas oven, with it on, to keep warm.
What about the gas?
Do you spend a lot on gas in order to keep warm?
Yes, two to three shillings a day I spend on the gas if we sit round it.
-Has the children's health been affected?
-To now they've been OK.
It's mostly me and my husband. We've gone down in weight terrible.
I used to weigh eight stone. Now I weigh six stone seven.
My husband used to weigh ten stone. Now he's seven stone eight.
And when we had nothing at all, I took his suit to the pawn shop.
# My heart is broken
# But what care I?
# Such pride inside me has woken
# I shall strive my best not to cry, by and by
# When the final farewells must be spoken... #
No longer meeting at work,
a gulf opens between the employed and the unemployed.
A gulf which is not bridged in the pubs and clubs.
There are few ways of meeting friends
without spending at least a little money.
And the unemployed have no surplus.
Unemployment isolates them.
I know quite a few people we used to go out with
and I say, "Are you bringing the wife out tonight?"
"No, we can't afford it. We're staying at home."
On Friday they used to come. We don't see them as often as we'd like.
This, of course, is due to financial embarrassment.
This, of course, can be based on one thing. They like their pint. We used to have a drink together.
This doesn't happen.
I would say that, far and large,
this is going to be possibly a social stigma
between the worker and the non-worker.
I hope not. We want to try to keep our relationships and friendships as we have done in the past.
I often think, you know, when you talk about things like this,
that the discussion about helping them just to have a drink or something,
it doesn't just end there.
There's a lot more things in companionship
without beer, without a drink or without a smoke.
There's many a time going out you miss a man's company. You miss his friendship.
And when a man isn't working,
he feels as though he has to stop away cos he hasn't got the money.
Would you be prepared to work half a week to allow the unemployed to work half a week?
Without any doubt at all. It's something we have done, actually, shared work.
Shift men have shared work at the steelworks.
Men are sharing work now at Westguard's.
Yes. It's a good principle and one I'll stick to all the way through.
I work in industry locally, the same as our friend there.
And we agreed to share work.
If we are going to have unemployment, we said, "We'll go along the right way
"and share the work out."
So if we had to work four days a week, we would do.
It's the only answer to it. You can't have a man on the dole and another man working.
-Do you feel more insecure because of unemployment in the area?
-Without a doubt.
We are alarmed at unemployment.
We're not frightened of it.
For the simple reason we believe in the future.
I think that everyone that is employed at the moment
has got this threatening axe and they don't know where it'll fall next.
If there's 40 people waiting outside the gate for your job,
you've got to put extra effort into it.
We know for a fact that this
is against the principles held up by the trade unions
but after all, one's got to look after one's self preservation.
With a steadily rising unemployment figure,
there's less money circulating in West Hartlepool.
Businesses are affected and trade in the shops has fallen in the last six months.
The expensive household goods are affected most.
For those on restricted budgets,
food, rent and fuel have a higher priority
than washing machines, refrigerators and televisions.
But some small businesses, like second-hand clothes shops,
are not having a bad time.
New clothes are too expensive for some unemployed families,
especially with growing children.
Second-hand dealers are doing good business
because some people want to raise money by selling what they can spare,
while others want to buy goods cheaply.
The articles cater for all needs and all ages.
They're sold on a commission basis.
We charge them 12.5 per cent.
They're allowed to leave their goods with us for a month
and if we don't sell them, then they can take them out
or leave them for another month
for a small rent.
We charge a small rent.
You don't think that 12.5 per cent is rather high,
considering that you have no capital invested here.
No, I'm afraid we couldn't work under less.
We shall never get rich, but we find the business very interesting.
In fact, it's fascinating.
What kind of rent do people have to pay to keep the goods in here?
It's about five per cent over the month.
How does unemployment affect the kind of things that people want to sell?
I think it's stepped up the quality of the goods we get, probably.
Probably people are reluctant to part with some of the goods we get,
but they're wanting some money.
In that way, we're able to help a bit, I think.
Do you find that more people are wanting to sell now, rather than buy?
Yes. Yes, I think so, yes.
There's not the money about at present owing to unemployment.
But anything over about four or five pounds we find sticks a bit now.
What can they do to help themselves?
If there's no work in West Hartlepool,
how far should they travel to find employment?
Here's West Hartlepool.
Went from West Hartlepool to London.
From London, went into Essex.
Covered all the Essex area.
From there, we made a detour back to London.
Up to Peterborough.
From Peterborough we went back to West Hartlepool.
The following week, we went to Newcastle.
Covered all the Newcastle area.
From there, we went in the Teme Valley, covering all that area.
Came from there, down into Sunderland and back to West Hartlepool.
Did you not get a job in any of these areas at all?
Yes, I was offered jobs.
But the rate was no good. I couldn't afford to live down there.
-Weren't you offered the trade union rate for the job?
-Yes, trade union rates.
But the trade union rate wasn't high enough.
What sort of rate do you want?
Between 17 and £18. I must have that to send money home.
I've a lot of responsibilities. House, furniture, wife.
Why don't I go down south? Why should I go down south?
This is my home town. This is where I live, where I've been brought up.
This is where I've been working since I left school.
This is where I'm prepared to stop.
The streets of London aren't lined with gold.
There's money here when it comes and I'm prepared to stop here and wait.
Until a job arises.
If I did go south, it would mean running two homes.
I wouldn't think of taking the wife and children down south
because this is their home as well as mine.
This is where the wife's parents is.
And my parents.
Therefore, going down south wouldn't solve anything as far as I'm concerned.
This is where I'm staying.
I don't think there's a need for us to go to the south.
We were born and bred in West Hartlepool and I think we should have work up here.
-Do you feel that West Hartlepool owes you a living?
West Hartlepool doesn't owe anybody anything.
We owe it to West Hartlepool to try and make it something.
They don't owe us anything. We owe them it.
Expect we've got the work to keep going.
The point about the dole is not does West Hartlepool owe us anything.
All we want to do is go to work. We don't want to owe anybody anything.
What if unemployment goes on indefinitely? What then?
I think we'll just have to wait on that question.
The point about the dole is...
If it goes on indefinitely? Well,
that's a very big point, that one.
What, do you mean by another two or three years?
Oh, we'd have to do something. We'd have to go down south.
We'd have to do something drastic.
I hope to God it doesn't go on that long.
It's about time somebody done something about it.
There's a lot of chaps getting bloody sick of it.
I don't know about anybody else!
Some people do get jobs in the south.
But unless the family can go with them,
they create as many problems as they solve.
I got paid off seven weeks ago and I've been to London for a job.
I've managed to get one in Hatfield, just outside London.
Will your wife and child be joining you there?
No, we haven't got a house down there.
Are you going to sell this house?
As we haven't got a house down there,
we can't sell up here cos there'd be too much money lost.
You mean you won't be able to sell this house in any case?
In any case because the people here haven't got the money with them being out of work.
How long have you been in this house?
Three years. But I was in Germany with the forces for two of them.
-So you've really only lived here for one year?
-And now you're leaving again?
There are plenty of houses for sale in West Hartlepool.
Many would leave to find work if they could find accommodation elsewhere.
For some who own their own houses, it's increasingly hard to sell them.
We find that houses such as this behind us
normally would be selling overnight or in the course of a day or two.
Now the opposite is happening.
They're standing for many months in some cases.
It has made a very big difference as far as the people are concerned,
the owners of the houses don't know what they're going to do.
They can't commit to other houses until they've got rid of their own.
It's had a very big effect on the speed at which houses are sold.
-Is this because the unemployed can't buy them?
-That's one reason.
It isn't only the unemployed. It's the insecurity.
People have committed themselves to buy houses
and they then find that when the building society make enquiries from the employers
on behalf of the mortgaging people,
they dare not commit themselves any further. The security is not there.
Where people thought they'd be working indefinitely,
they find from the employers that the security has been cut altogether.
-Within months, anything could happen.
-How have prices been affected?
Very much. We have evidence of houses in the 4,000 region
which, after having stood for five or six months,
have come down to an asking price in the 3,000 region. And still the houses are standing.
That doesn't mean that houses aren't selling. They're still going, but nothing like two or three years ago.
How many houses are for sale in the town at the moment?
Something between 400 and 500. At least 400, probably nearer five.
# She's Venus in blue jeans
# Mona Lisa with a ponytail... #
I'm a skilled tradesman, a sheet metalworker, which I served five years at.
Nine months ago, owing to redundancy, I got put out of my job.
Now, I tried a job in a tailor's shop.
They asked me to get a black suit out of my savings.
Well, I did that. But due to overstaffing, I got pushed out.
So now I'm trying my hand as a singer. I've been doing it a while.
I hope I can make a name for myself.
Most of West Hartlepool's unemployed don't expect to make names for themselves.
Their main hope is to find jobs and use the skills they've acquired
in the factories and shipyards.
I've applied for 18 jobs in all, since last April.
Seven of them had been advertised. I only heard from two of those.
The others, I just went round and asked if they had work, but there's none at all. Nothing whatsoever.
Really, he has been a bit depressed and I have been depressed.
But it's one of those things. You have to get over it.
Oh, I've wrote umpteen letters and been over to this trading estate a dozen times.
But of course I haven't heard anything up to date.
The letterbox goes and he comes galloping down
and it's another disappointment.
I'm horrified that he sort of loses his sense of humour.
That's what bothers me more than anything.
Not so much me as him.
You see, at first,
we always thought, "Here's another chance."
But since then, it's gone on and on
and he says, "No, it's the age that does it." That's the idea.
Soon as they know you're 57,
it seems as if you've had it.
There's nothing. The steelworks is on a three-day week
which is the biggest concern in the town.
Other places they've been paying them off, the big majority of them.
The shipyard's closed down.
Mortlake is on slack time, on short time as well.
They're paying men off. Half the men that were on the crew I was working with, they've been paid off.
There were 90 men on the outdoor squad and 45 have been paid off.
Terrible. It's not right for a man to sit around the house all day.
He doesn't know what to do with himself.
He can't go out anywhere.
And there's just nothing to do.
I've been all round the town
looking for work and there's no work at all.
I've been to Stockton, Middlesbrough, no work.
There's no work anywhere.
It's hit him pretty badly, because he's never been out of work.
He's just sitting about. He doesn't know what to do with himself.
He's been out looking for jobs but he can't find any.
He's never been out of work since he left school.
This is the first time.
As the days go by, you just sink. You're inclined to sink lower and lower.
I feel I'm losing a certain dignity and self-respect.
You're inclined... If you let yourself go,
they think you're becoming a parasite.
Living on the backs of your fellow men.
Waiting for Work was a documentary written and directed by my dad, Jack Ashley.
Politically passionate, one of the first working class reporters at the BBC.
He wanted to show the suffering caused by high unemployment.
It caused a storm.
Almost half a century later,
I'm in Hartlepool to discover what happened to the families it showed
and the impact of that new-fangled thing television on a struggling town.
Initially, my dad stayed at the Grand Hotel.
But he felt uncomfortable living in luxury while he interviewed people in poverty.
Instead, to get to know the community better,
he moved in with a local shopkeeper, Leo Gillen.
'The town is not a new town, but it has all the amenities we want.
That's my father's voice. Doesn't he sound young!
'We've some of the finest craftsmen in the country.'
The Gillens were heavily involved in making the film.
They had a social conscience
and wanted both the poverty and the community spirit of Hartlepool to be shown.
Your father, I think, came up with the title Waiting for Work.
He did, yes, and did the voiceover.
'But we also have our good spots.
'Well laid-out estates, fine schools
'and a very good community spirit among the people.'
They wanted to show an optimistic side of Hartlepool.
We didn't want unemployment. We were waiting for work. We wanted work.
The film brought out a unique aspect of the town.
Hartlepool is built on a spit head.
You can't pass through it.
I think it's an insular town. But if it hadn't had such a sense of community,
I think Hartlepool's ills would have been really bad.
Long-term unemployment would have seen society collapse.
Hartlepool is known for having more than its fair share of problems.
Whatever the measure,
teenage pregnancy, alcohol abuse, it's at the wrong end of the league tables.
But travelling around the town, you can see some things have changed.
There's a lot of new building.
All of my interviewees will watch the film at Hartlepool 6th form college,
which has just been redeveloped at a cost of more than £20 million.
By coincidence, Joe Coomer lectures here.
# Come on, let's twist again... #
My dad wanted to show that Hartlepool could still enjoy itself
Here's Joe's Uncle Walter,
leading the singers in the club.
Walter had some interesting ways of making extra money.
Thursday he'd come with his wage packet into the pub
and raffle it!
He knew exactly how many tickets he had to sell to break even.
Some weeks, he'd get double his salary!
Joe's Uncle Walter didn't always have a proper job,
but he was never without cash.
Unlike Joe's dad, Ronnie,
who paints a much bleaker picture.
Things are getting pretty grim. You can't give the children proper food and clothing.
I remember him wringing his hands when he was stressed.
For Joe and the family, it was hard displaying their poverty for all to see.
But director and interviewees were united
in wanting to make a political impact.
They hadn't anticipated the generous reaction.
After the film was aired,
parcels kept coming to the house.
Inside the parcels would be food, clothing,
there'd be presents for the three children there.
The postman would bring letters with postal orders and cheques and cash!
Christmas that year, there was that many turkeys,
they were giving them to the neighbours.
Was that just people from the surrounding area?
From all over the United Kingdom.
I think they were a little humbled by it.
They didn't expect the generosity of people.
Ronnie Coomer's first taste of unemployment wasn't his last.
He never had a permanent job again.
-'It's a ritual to be observed twice a week, every week.'
When the documentary was shot, Hartlepool's unemployment rate was one of the highest in the country.
The Macmillan government was under pressure to do something.
My dad believes his film, shown nationwide on the BBC,
may have tipped the balance.
..tell people it's a very good place to go to.
Lord Hailsham was appointed the new minister for the north.
Unfortunately, he put his foot - or rather his head - straight in it.
Lord Hailsham, have you brought your north-east head-gear back?
It's not head-gear, it's my flat cap!
-And here it is.
-Thank you very much, sir.
Hailsham's suggestion that large parts of south Durham should be demolished didn't help.
But he wanted to transform the north into a tourism hotspot
in double-quick time.
I'm expecting to see things move from the spring onwards, which is weeks.
Most of Hailsham's plans were shelved.
But he is credited with reconnecting the north-east with the rest of Britain
through multi-million pound transport projects like Teeside airport.
Unfortunately, it was all eclipsed
by memories of that cap.
They even wrote a song about it.
# A little cloth cap, a little cloth cap
# You can eat your singing pinnies from your little cloth cap. #
Many people have told me that queuing for dole is humiliating.
-Before working at the BBC, my dad was a crane driver.
A swinging jib meant a busy day to him
so he featured a motionless hook,
which was, as he says, a silent and eloquent symbol of unemployment.
His picture was pretty bleak.
He knew it all from first hand.
Money worries and the problems of growing up in a family with no male breadwinner.
So what did the people featured in the film think?
My business hasn't suffered because I give value for money.
Edward Walker had a dozen butcher's shops in Hartlepool.
A big, confident man, he died a few years after this interview.
This is the first time his nephew Tony has seen or heard his uncle
in more than four decades.
I don't think there's any change in the habits of the people.
It was sort of upsetting in a way.
-Brought back lots of memories?
Yes, he was a great guy.
Tony was a boy when the documentary was made.
The passage of time has given a film destined for one or two TV showings
a nostalgic quality.
But the spirit of the people of Hartlepool still makes a big impact.
I was actually genuinely quite startled, I think.
The one thing that's obviously plain to see
is the fact that the people in this town are literally a breed apart.
They're extremely resilient.
They would have found it extremely hard
and, of course, the men in particular were very proud people.
They had to support the family
but you probably saw that the children were smartly dressed.
I think they had to adjust.
In the '60s, the TV coming to town was a big event.
Hartlepool put on a show for the cameras.
This must be the poshest second-hand dealer in the north!
We shall never get rich, but we find the business interesting. It's fascinating.
This is what's left of Crowther's.
Hello, do you remember when it was Crowther's Corner?
The last person who was in her was here 30 years ago.
-It was my father.
-Is it still a shop now?
-It's going to be a barber's.
A barber's shop?
The documentary brought Hartlepool's problems to a national audience.
Dramatically so. But after its impact faded,
this carried on being a town with problems.
Television can show and tell. It can't legislate.
Anyway, some people in the film thought it overdid the town's reluctance to change.
-Why should I go down south?
-There's no need for us to go down south.
We were bred and born in West Hartlepool.
These are the sort of attitudes that weren't helpful.
Derek Stevenson, a steel worker,
felt the film was too pessimistic.
He struck a defiant note in his original interview.
We are alarmed at unemployment. We're not frightened of it.
For the simple reason we believe in the future.
Did the film capture the mood of the town at the time?
It could have been in more depth.
Looking at the change that people were having to assimilate.
It was difficult to get over to people. Industries had closed.
They weren't going to reopen.
We had to look for alternative industries,
And there were those who found alternatives.
I came to Hartlepool with little hope of finding Mr Floyd, the butcher,
who seemed to be on the brink of hard times.
Things have dropped a bit in the last six months with so many out of work.
The one who's got it now is here four years and before that it was three years.
-That's a long time ago, that.
-Going back a bit, isn't it?
-OK. Thank you.
I soon found out there was no point looking for his butcher's shop.
Mr Floyd had moved into the car trade, and prospered.
-Takes you back a bit?
-Yeah, sure does!
I notice a sheep hanging in the background.
That was quite a lot for a small shop.
The BBC paid Derrick £46 for being interviewed.
A fortune, then.
He's not getting a penny for this!
Derrick believes the film exaggerated Hartlepool's problems.
Most people were of the opinion
that it showed you the town worse than what it was.
It wasn't as deep... It wasn't in as deep a depression as it made it out to be.
The whole film seemed to try to bring that across that people were really bad.
People weren't really bad.
The Coomers' claim that they had to burn their furniture, split the town.
Some thought they shouldn't be washing their dirty linen in public.
Others, like Derrick, didn't believe it happened.
Take that with a pinch of salt.
Those days you could go on the beach and get a bag of sea coal.
An awful lot of people used to get sea coal for free.
I've chopped my table up and two dining room chairs.
So what about the Coomers' confession that they had to burn furniture to keep warm?
Was that a product of artistic licence, or were times really that bad?
Was it simply the truth?
It did actually happen, yes.
I do remember him chopping a chair up and burning the chair.
It was the truth and an early lesson in the perils of TV exposure.
When my grandfather saw that, he said, "What is he doing?
"I gave them that furniture as a wedding present. How dare he?"
He was so incensed by it, he disowned him. He wouldn't speak to him again.
And he didn't speak to him again.
Didn't even go to his funeral.
Had you been a close family before the film was made?
Yes, until the film was aired,
and my grandfather heard what he was doing,
and why he was doing it, he said, "I don't want anything to do with him."
-So the reaction of the film was to fracture your family?
A shocking, if unintended, consequence of my dad's work.
Television can be dangerous.
In the ten years after my dad's documentary was broadcast,
Hartlepool didn't go under.
Many of the film's interviewees did well.
In fact, some even became millionaires.
But the deprivation dad showed on television was authentic.
And there's something Leo Gillen said which points to the film's essential truth.
This was way before the major slump in the '70s.
I think the people who were in the film might have been frightened
of this sudden loss of the shipyard which the town was built on.
It was the first time since the war there was a lot of unemployment.
3,000 jobs in Hartlepool in those days with a population of just over 50,000 was a lot of unemployed.
It's the town's fear of what's in store that comes through in the film.
That is its truth.
Illness prevented my dad from returning to Hartlepool.
So on one of his visits to the House of Lords,
I played his documentary, which he hasn't seen for 47 years.
It shook me to see the impact the film had.
My dad felt great sadness at seeing what happened to the Coomer family.
He had no idea at the time.
But he felt overall the film needed to be made
to shine a light on a traditional working-class community
hit hard by recession.
I came to Hartlepool to discover the impact of Waiting for Work on the town.
And to try to follow up the families it featured.
I found agreement about the resilience of the people
and the striking generosity that shone through the film.
And division over the town's problems.
I have no doubt it was a worthwhile piece of work.
But perhaps the final judgement should be left to the family most affected by it -
-Do you wish it hadn't happened?
It highlighted the problem at that time.
When you look at it again, you think, "Why on earth did you fall out?"
There was nothing really there that shamed the family.
Today, Hartlepool is transformed. It's a more attractive place to live.
But its unemployment rate is almost double the national average.
hundreds were put out of work by the closure of a call centre company.
And there's the threat of cuts in a town heavily dependent on the public sector.
Hartlepool still has a problem.
Many of its people are still waiting for work.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Waiting for Work was a documentary written and directed by Jack Ashley. Politically passionate and one of the first working class reporters at the BBC, he wanted to show the suffering caused by high unemployment.
The documentary caused a storm.